Sunday, November 09, 2014

The window of opportunity for mitigating Climate Change is closing

Recently, “R. K. Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC said: “The scientific case for prioritizing action on climate change is clearer than ever. We have little time before the window of opportunity to stay within 2ºC of warming closes.”” (IPCC warns time is running out to tackle climate change, 11/03/2014, tcktcktck)  

(Remember: Adapting is adjusting. Mitigation is alleviation. You can adapt to brushfire by continually moving away from the fire. You mitigate by putting the fire out. Pachauri is speaking about mitigation.)

One of the really annoying things about Climate Change is that, because it’s a problem of physics, we cannot wait around until our collective social consciousness can digest it. The clock is ticking. Even trying to vote it away won’t work. Regardless of the dismaying mid-term elections (in which one of the consequences will be to install Sen. Inhofe, the climate denier-in-chief, to the chair of Senate environment committee) won’t slow Climate Change down a bit. Allowing such an irresponsible senator to escalate his efforts to thwart our government’s efforts (especially our military) to address Climate Change will only cripple our chances to mitigate Climate Change. Denier obstructionists will only make our ability to make critical commitments at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris more unlikely. In other words, deniers cannot stop Climate Change—that can only be done by lowering GHG concentrations--all they can do is kill our efforts to save ourselves.

Think of our present situation this way: Someone is frantically knocking at your apartment door. You open the door and it’s a firefighter saying you must evacuate the building immediately. You ask why. The firefighter says that your building is on fire. You don’t believe her. You ask, what makes her think your apartment is on fire. She says that your apartment isn’t on fire yet, your building is on fire. You still don’t believe her. You explain that you don’t see any signs of a fire, no smoke, no sirens, no alarms in the building are sounding, and nary a mention of a fire on your TV. She says that she is a firefighter and it’s her job to know whether there’s a fire or not.  The firefighter explains to you that the manager of your apartment doesn’t believe in fires and the cable service from which you get your TV news doesn’t believe in fires either, that’s why you haven’t been warned. You say that you don’t want to leave as it would be very inconvenient for you and all your stuff inside might get stolen.  You further explain very calmly and respectfully that if you see a lot of smoke or fire trucks pulling up outside or something on the news about it then, and only then, will you get moving.  Otherwise, fuhgeddaboudit. The firefighter says that if the fire isn’t stopped in your building, then the whole neighborhood will go up in flames. You still refuse to believe that which is very inconvenient to believe; you’re not getting out of your apartment so that some firefighter can put out a fire that you don’t believe exists or will have any effect on your neighborhood. The firefighter explains with more urgency that she has witnessed the fire, you can talk to her supervisor. You can even come with her and see the fire for yourself. But you think this is just her sneaky way to get you out of your apartment so the firefighter can do some kind of mischief. You close the door on the firefighter and go back to watching the cable news, occasionally checking to see if they make any mention of the alleged fire.   

This rather silly thought experiment is just another of my futile attempts to understand why folks are not alarmed by Climate Change. The International Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is not only a collection of science experts, they tend (as anything related to the UN is very political) to be conservative. If they say the freaking window is closing, it might be a good idea to heed their warning.

On the local level, it’s interesting to look for signs of Climate Change alarm in our leaders. Are any of our local agencies alarmed; are they planning; are they even aware of Climate Change?
At least someone is. Here’s a press release from one our leaders: NYS Attorney General Schneiderman says in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy (from press release, October 29, 2014A.G. Schneiderman: Two Years After Sandy, We Must Remain Committed To Making New York Stronger Than Ever):

In the past two years, Attorney General Schneiderman has made several significant efforts to help New Yorkers overcome the challenges posed by Sandy. Among his achievements:
·         Intervening in a Public Service Commission proceeding on a proposed rate hike for Consolidated Edison and successfully advocating that the utility company be required to take into account the risks posed by climate change in its storm-hardening plans;
·         Proposing legislation to require all electric and gas utilities in the state to ensure that the critical services they provide to millions of New Yorkers are properly protected from the impacts of climate change;

One of the things we absolutely have to do to address Climate Change is make sure our critical utilities are ready for more frequent disruptions. For all the doubt and dismissing of Climate Change in our region, our public officials must see to it that we are prepared for Climate Change and that we are also prepared for the collateral damage. Our public officials do not have the luxury of doubting Climate Change—no matter how loony their political constituencies are.

We need more media attention focused on efforts by our public servants like A.G. Schneiderman’s. The media must make it crystal clear to the public that Climate Change is real, that it is happening, and it must be planned for—especially by our government. Only our government can set the playing field for addressing Climate Change, and only our government (no matter how many donors and volunteers help out after a disaster) can be the insurers and provide assistance of last resort.

Some may view that the Paris 2015 conference is merely a line drawn in the sand, an arbitrary point where climate scientists around the world have chosen to act. The window of opportunity may have already passed or it still maybe some point in the future. Only someone viewing our present position from the future can be absolutely certain. We will never have absolute certainty. So, it is important that we draw a line in the sand at the Paris 2015 conference, even though there will never be a Pearl-Harbor moment of clarity on when we should act. Our best bet is not to trust the deniers, but listen to our experts, a firefighter, as it were: 

How Michael Mann Views Sunday’s IPCC Synthesis Report Michael Mann, originator of the hockey stick graph that shook world science in the 2001 IPCC Third Assessment Report and contributed to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, posted some thoughts today about the final IPCC climate synthesis report released by the UN on Sunday. Mann’s take on the key points of the report, which calls for zero fossil fuel emissions by 2100: “The world’s scientists are more confident than ever that climate change is not only real and caused by us, but that it is already taking a toll: on our health, on our economy, on our security, and on the health of our environment. The good news is that it it still possible to solve the problem cheaply. But if we delay acting, it will be far more expensive, and the damages will be far greater.” He finds this latest IPCC synthesis report more definitive than the past reports in terms of its tone of certainty. He hears in it a higher level of confidence that human activity (fossil fuel burning) is responsible for warming. “The report is far more definitive that climate change isn’t some nebulous, far-off threat—it is negatively impacting us already, where we live.” He cites the influence of climate change in the US, such as increasing impacts of extreme droughts, floods, and massive wildfires. (November 2, 2014) Planet Save [more on Climate Change in our area]

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